Tarbuck’s infectious dirty laugh only adds to the hilarity. Stories involving mischievous pets, mischievous children or mischievous grandmothers always make her laugh. A prolific recent topic has been sneaky teenagers throwing house parties while their parents are away – and the telltale signs that broke them. Find nasty finds behind the sideboard or in the fishbowl. Body parts resembling famous people were another rich seam. The man with the toenail who looked like Angela Lansbury is etched in my memory.
As a woman of a certain age, Tarbuck revels in tales of “menopausal madness,” extolling the goatee in a subtly empowering way. A running thread is an enigmatic figure nicknamed “Beryl the Brick”, an old lady who secretly helps herself to two bricks for a house on an evening when there is construction work in her neighbourhood. What does she do with them? No one knows, but speculation is rife.
The way Tarbuck mixes crowd-pleasing music and her own riffs may sound effortless, but it’s deceptively skillful. The seat-of-the-pants element is excitingly unpredictable, but careers never get out of hand. It’s a testament to her restless, wandering mind. When Ken Bruce left Radio 2 this year, many were rooting for Tarbuck to succeed his morning show. For now, it remains a weekly treat, not a daily treat.
Most importantly, she keeps her playlist tight. Most Radio 2 shows choose from the same playlist. Tarbuck runs nicely off-piste. She spends an entire week carefully compiling a mixtape. The average show might include Motown classics, Swinging Sixties gems, brutal ’70s funk, disco anthems and retro jazz. She might be in a marching band, some country or calypso, maybe a rousing show tune or a kitschy crooner. David Rose’s stripper appears weekly, as does Percy Faith’s theme from ‘A Summer Place’. When she recently played Champion, The Wonder Horse, social media went crazy. Most songs are followed by a bit of trivia about the record. Tarbuck does his research, but uses his knowledge lightly.
Her trademark sound effect of a squeaky dog toy started as a joke. A friend’s mom was driving a van full of mutts down the highway and Tarbuck thought it would be fun to drive them all crazy. Now, that’s a big deal. On Saturday, listeners send in photos of their pets sitting next to the radio, ears perked and head tilted. “Where is?” Tarbuck asks in the voice of his dog’s owner. “Find it!”
Tarbuck treats us as friends and fellow entertainment seekers, not passive audiences. In each episode, she describes an imaginary ice rink. Listeners submit descriptions of their fantasy skating outfits before a dreamy interlude in which everyone visualizes stepping onto the ice together. “I love having that moment of skating with all of her wonderful listeners,” Ball says. Jane Garvey said on Radio 4 last year: “It’s becoming less and less common for people who really understand radio to get on air. But Lisa just knows radio and makes it special.”